New York Day 1

Report from the Road

Today’s entry is long. Treat it like a Chinese menu.

Sad amateur photo at the right was taken as I and a few thousand of my closest friends were leaving the Met after tonight’s performance of Lucia di Lammermoor. (I really do need to get a better camera or learn how to use the one I have.) More Lucia if you make it to the bottom of this entry.

Made the mistake of getting into New York at midnight last night, and there were no “No Smoking” rooms left at the hotel. Grrr. Also broke the earphones to my iPod. Trouble with the internet connection at the hotel, so this posting is late. Boring travel irritations…

Rash of singer cancellations today due to sickness. Four out of 33 – a higher percentage than usual. But if we try to bank on cancellations and overbook the auditions, suddenly everyone shows up and we have to hurry folks through.

We’re at New York City Opera today, auditioning in the Orchestra Rehearsal Room. Singers hate it because the acoustic is dry. We’re not tremendously fond of it, but ears adapt very quickly, and the lack of reverb makes our job easier. That sounds callous, but look at it this way. When I hear a singer in a generous, boomy acoustic, I do immediate mental subtraction: What does the voice sound like minus all of that extra resonance? In the drier acoustic, the mental math is all about addition. Giving the benefit of the doubt. And because details emerge more clearly, a well-prepared, focused singer with a solid technique probably has a slight advantage over a similar performer in a “live” room where I’m likely to be mildly suspicious of my favorable response.

Shop Talk

“Sometimes it’s better to focus on one big thing” (Officer Lockstock, in Urinetown, of course…I promise this is the last time I mention it…) Today’s “big thing” –

Singing On Pitch. I wish I had the magic bullet. I’m certainly glad I’m not coaching singers any more because I’m really at a loss. It’s truly an issue for singers and their teachers, but it too often gets ignored, or tabled, or minimized. But it’s the elephant in the room. Years and years of work devoted to refining all other aspects of vocalism (projection, resonance, smoothing out the registers, etc), learning languages and styles, dissecting characters and scenes – it all takes a back seat if the singing isn’t on pitch. Flatness is more pervasive, but being sharp is just as deadly. I have no advice on this. It would be pretentious to believe I do.


Tenors: “Celie” from Pasatieri’s Signore Deluso – a viable alternative English aria. For a heavier voice than Rakewell, but stacks up nicely against Anatol (“Outside This House”) and Sam (“Lonely House”.)

Sopranos: Zerbinetta’s scene from Ariadne auf Naxos – don’t. Please don’t. It’s so tempting. I love it too. But it’s almost 12 minutes long. Even if you’re prepared for us to cut you off, it’s hardly the optimal scenario for making a good impression. If you’re really attached to it, start with “So war es mit Pagliazzo…”

Ladies: Parade of the E-naturals. This sounds silly, but first impressions count… The E-natural at the top of the treble staff is not a problem-free note. For many women it’s dangerous territory. There are a few arias that seem momentarily (and dramatically) to be about that E-natural: “Va!…………..laisse couler mes larmes”, “Gualtier Maldé…….(Caro nome)”, and “Quan…… m’en vo” for starters. Of course, all of those arias go on to be about much more than the E-natural. But if the first sustained sound we hear is problematic, you’re already working with a deficit. (OK, now you really do think I’m crazy.)


Lucia at the Met tonight. But if you’re waiting for me to “review” the performance, you should get back to work or read your email or something.

Busman’s Holiday: It’s not easy to spend 7 hours listening to auditions then go to the opera at night. But I do it for a few reasons. I don’t get out very often (literally) under normal circumstances. Life gets in the way. Catching up on work, volunteering at school or church, or being at home so the teenager that’s still living there is suitably nagged. I go to the opera to be sure I don’t lose sight of the goal. Running a young artist program within a parent institution that isn’t all about opera means that it’s easy to lose touch with the rest of the industry. As much as I love my beautiful office in the woods at Wolf Trap, it can certainly be isolating. And finally, I love to go see productions that feature alumni of our company. Elizabeth Futral (WTOC ’91) has been singing Lucia at the Met (and elsewhere) for quite a while now, and I finally got to hear her. (Sidebar: Elizabeth is married to conductor Steven White, who led our L’elisir d’amore at The Barns last year. She spent some time with us in Vienna, and it was a pleasure to catch up.)

Verdi: I was delighted to see that Edoardo Müller was conducting tonight. Back when I was working for Washington Opera, Maestro Müller conducted a Luisa Miller for which I played rehearsals (about 15 years ago). I learned more about Verdi in three weeks with him than I learned before or since. I’d worked with too many conductors who treated Verdi interpretation like a secret members-only club that we poor mortals could never join. Maestro Müller approached it in a way that allowed this poor pianist (who, at that time, didn’t have a single natural Italianate bone in her entire body) to understand it as good music, pure and simple.


For those of you who asked, the Urinetown performances at the high school were great fun. First sell-out (Saturday night) in our history. I could go on and on about what theatre does for these kids – teaches them that creativity and discipline aren’t mutually exclusive, for example – but this isn’t the time or place. Can’t close this chapter without a few pictures, though!

Above: Bobby Strong & Company
Right: My son as “Robbie the Stockfish” :)

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